䴀䄀刀䌀䠀 ㈀ 㘀 ⼀ 嘀伀䰀唀䴀䔀 堀堀䤀 ⼀ 䤀 匀匀唀䔀 䤀 䤀
䠀愀 瀀 瀀 椀 渀 攀 猀 猀 㨀 伀甀 爀 䘀 椀 挀 欀 氀 攀 䘀 爀 椀 攀 渀 搀 倀䄀䜀䔀
䄀渀 䔀 砀 挀 氀 甀 猀 椀 瘀 攀 䤀 渀 琀 攀 爀 瘀 椀 攀 眀 眀椀 琀 栀 唀猀 琀 愀 搀 栀 一漀 甀 洀愀 渀 䄀氀 椀 䬀栀 愀 渀 倀䄀䜀䔀 㘀
刀攀 洀攀 洀戀 攀 爀 椀 渀 最 匀礀 爀 椀 愀 㨀 䴀攀 洀漀 爀 椀 攀 猀 昀 爀 漀 洀 䐀愀 洀愀 猀 挀 甀 猀 倀䄀䜀䔀 㠀
TABLE OF CONTENTS 3
From the Editors Desk
Happiness: Our Fickle Friend
An Obsession with Excessive Consumption & A growing...
Remembering Syria: My Memories from Damascus
How to Be Movers & Shakers Bushra Siddiqui
Interview with Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan Elham Ali
In Pursuit of Impact Through Winning Peoplesâ€™ Hearts Ahmed Mezil
The Islamic Way to a 4.0 GPA Aatina Munir
The Slippery Slope between Financial Security & Materialism Rabia Sohaib
staff EDITOR IN CHIEF Hirra Sheikh
associate editor Halla Ahmed
head content editor Bushra Siddiqui
Copy editors Yusra Qazi Omar Saeed Halla Ahmed Elham Ali 02 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | MARCH 2016
Yasmine Kherfi Bushra Siddiqui Ahmed Mezil Halla Ahmed Muhsanah Arefin Elham Ali Aatina Munir Rabia Sohaib
photographer Ammara Wasim
graphic designers Ammara Wasim Busra Yildirim Manal Chowdhury Ammar ElAmir Meriem Benlamri Elham Ali
Zaeem Siddiqui (TMV Online Manager) Ilham Islow (TMV Liason)
from the Editor’s Desk
salamu Alaykum Wa Rahmatullah Wa Barakatu,
If I were to walk into a room full of people and ask them: raise your hand if you would like to be happy, I can quite confidently say a vast majority of the hands, if not all, would go right up. Happiness, it seems, is something everyone wants. It is often portrayed as an ultimate goal, and we frequently take great measures in the attempt to somehow achieve this emotion or state. Yet, the definition of happiness seems vague. What does it mean to be happy? Is it quantifiable? Qualitative? Individualist? How do we pursue it? Is it even attainable? In this issue we chose to seek out answers, and thus delved into the topic that is, The Pursuit of Happiness. As students, we seek to get admission into a certain university, a certain program, get into a specific career field, attain a defined amount of wealth, have a certain kind of family, before we think we should allow ourselves the permission to be happy. In our minds, we don’t allow ourselves to be happy until we have reached this defined end. Even personally, as I assess what it is that I wanted to be when I grew up, happiness wasn’t my default response. We are never taught or given clear steps and guidelines as to what it means to be happy or to reach happiness. However, we somehow assume that reaching our goals and aspirations, whatever they may be, will inevitably make us a happy person. We believe we know what we need and want. We believe we are the best authors of our story. Yet, where I am today was not at all what I had planned or aspired for, and each time I was faced with failure on my way to where I wanted to be, I found myself panicking. I felt as though my hopes of attaining happiness had been lost forever because I wasn’t exactly where I had planned. But with each failure came strength, understanding, and growth that I could not have attained if everything went just as I had aspired and imagined it to be. In this way I learned to be flexible, and understand that what and where I am supposed to be are self-imposed and restricting. Opening my eyes and mind to various other possibilities and opportunities when I found myself at dead ends only helped me in ways I can’t begin to count.
‘But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah knows, while you know not’ [2:216]
PHOTO // UNSPLASH.COM
Hirra Sheikh, Editor in Chief
MARCH 2016 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 03
An Obsession with
EXCESSIVE CONSUMPTION and a
CULTURE OF NARCISSISM
BY YASMINE KHERFI
e live in a technology-driven world that is constantly discovering innovative solutions to modern social problems. However, can technologyâ€”the catalyst for development in the present ageâ€”address the problem of a global culture that increasingly breeds obsession with over-the-edge wealth and a desire to boast of materialism? Though it torments the Muslim community just as much as any other group, trends in materialism and narcissism are un-Islamic. Even if the social pandemic of excessive materialism and the growing culture of narcissism that accompanies it is normalized, we, as a community, should not hesitate to denounce what could be considered behavioral social flaws. We must, in fact, be critical of our communities and be the first to condemn such behaviour. One need not to be trained in Islamic jurisprudence to know that Islam places great value on moderation in life, and by the same token, warns against the harms of excessiveness. Yet, many Muslims overlook this important aspect of the religion. They adhere to hyper-consumerism and, rather than demonstrating discipline and balance in their lives, they buy into the shimmering illusions of the luxurious life, chasing it as if it were the antidote to all human suffering.
4 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | MARCH 2016
Needless to say, it is challenging to standardize— let alone interpret—“moderation”. Despite ambiguities in the interpretation of this word, one should not feel restrained to speak up and criticize social norms and their perverse effects on humanity. While we may not have an undisputed and well-calibrated measure of moderation, we have documented changes in social behaviour that legitimize this discussion. To be clear, the desire for wealth as a means to a purposeful goal falls far from the infatuation with money that has deceived many. While realizing that we are capable of maximizing our potential is wonderful, allowing materialistic needs to overwhelm our thoughts is not Islamic, not healthy, and is not necessarily the antidote to success. Our end goal should not be solely defined in materialistic components. In spite of that, many Muslims foster a yearning to display wealth and status, rather than using such power in ways that can effectively help the community, such as supporting and participating in local initiatives, and contributing ideas for social progress.
While virtual platforms are effective marketing tools for growing brands, it is important to highlight that their fast-paced propagation on the Internet increases our exposure, not only to promotional advertisements, but to a particular way of life: a luxurious one that we are called to aspire for. The outpour of articles on how to “live like the 1%” or “become a billionaire”, along with the strong presence of luxurious lifestyle accounts on social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest all contribute to the crafting of a very superficial and ego-based definition of success. Nowadays, the image of success is not only measured in materialistic terms, but also dependent on the extent to which we choose to market it on social media. In particular, there is a disturbing need to constantly flaunt accomplishment after accomplishment on the internet, as if it is the sole medium through which success can be legitimized. Many of us realize that doing so does not make us happier, and yet, we still do it. The question then becomes: why do we consciously partake in this visibly unhealthy virtual frenzy, when it does absolutely nothing to change our reality?
The obsession with wealth reduces the idea of a good life to whether or not we get the largest pay-check, drive the best sports car and live in the perfect dream home. It distorts our perception of life, which becomes nothing but a succession of feel-good purchases, each bringing nonlasting satisfaction. Throughout this process, people tend to forget their blessings and the importance of exerting gratitude. Most importantly though, it seems that people have forgotten that happiness and peace of mind are not things that can be bought or acquired through wealth.
The truth is, social media platforms offer users an effective outlet for narcissism, as well as ways to proudly show off their lavish lifestyles (whether they are real or imagined). Towards this end, many Muslims have exploited this medium. Has social media corrupted our culture to this extent? Is boasting forever cemented in our daily activities? Has narcissism become an adopted rhetoric because of social media? Or is technology merely revealing a flawed aspect of humanity that has been within us all along?
Obsessions with wealth and materialism are part of a broader, globalized social dynamic that is by no means limited to the Muslim community. Indeed, we are partially conditioned to associate what is of monetary value to happiness. However, because engagement in blatantly wasteful spending is the very antithesis of Islam’s notion of moderation, as a Muslim, it should not be glorified, let alone encouraged in our community and beyond. It is our duty to spread social awareness and re-evaluate our current approach to consumption and boastful behaviour.
We cannot disregard our problematic preoccupation with appearances and people’s opinions. We must stop seeking extensive external validation to feel happy. People have to realize that this internalized need to brag, is not only emotionally unsatisfying, but also unIslamic. Likewise, material aspirations must be tempered. Obsession with excessive consumption leaves little room for spiritual growth and ways to advance the community’s social wellbeing. We must stop pretending that this is okay and we must devise strategies to restore more balanced lives.
MARCH 2016 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 5
ronically, my journey to learning about ‘movers and shakers’ BY BUSHRA SIDDIQUI started with a lazy afternoon; assignments were left unfinished, books were left unread, dirty dishes were untouched. Deadlines Two sentences in, I closed it. The quality was at 240p! Can you were fast approaching but I was binge watching BuzzFeed Videos, believe it? Was I living in the dark ages? I needed more pixels than that! as one naturally does to avoid work. So I found a better version called “Muslim Teens Set Goals! Part 1-3” And I was pleasantly surprised by the content. Below I detail some of I was on a roll, finishing my second consecutive playlist of the best parts in the lecture. videos, when a recommendation on the side of the screen caught my eye. It read, “Be Creative and Pursue a Right Career.” At first I Ustadh Noman Khan notes, Muslims in this country, for a long time, thought it was just another lame ad trying to get me to enrol in a we have not been creative … our idea of a good career is limited to four random, no-one-has-heard-about, college, but then I saw Ustadh or five things and if your children are not graduating in these four or Noman Ali Khan on the thumbnail. five fields then they have failed in life. And what are these four or five fields you may ask? He states, “lets start with Jannat al-Firdous,” – that “Muslims in this country, for a long is, the highest of the highest career paths, touching the heavens if you will, is none other than time, we have not been creative …
our idea of a good career is limited to four or five things...”
To tell you the truth, I was hesitant to click it. Did I really want to hear, what was probably going to be, another lecture on how my decision to pursue English and Political Science as a career path was the worst choice I had ever made? No. Did I want to click away from watching people play with chicks? No. Was I was probably going to miss out on some good life lessons by ignoring the lecture by Usthadh Khan? Yes.
… *drum roll* … Medical school! Then? Engineering of course! Not capable of that? You can strive for something a “little bit lower” and be satisfied with computer science. Not your thing? Information Technology has got your back! Really, further inept? That’s okay there’s always accounting. No math! Well I guess there’s education, but that’s “way at the bottom” of the totem pole.
So what happens if, god forbid, your child decided to get a Bachelors in History? Ustadh Noman Khan says it the best, “You’ll say, [inSo, begrudgingly, I put on my defensive shield (i.e. the invisible sert shocked face here] ‘What are you doing?’ Is that why we brought armour I built over my university career to protect my ego against you to Amreeka [sic], to study history? No, no, no, forget about history, aunties who were baffled by my life choices), and with a deep breath worry about your future.’” I opened the video. 6 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | MARCH 2016
Unfortunately, this mentality stems from our supposition that “these are the careers that are successful.” But the reality is quite different. As Ustadh Noman Khan puts it, we do live in a “land of opportunity.” As cliché as this sentiment might sound, the truth is that other sectors including Academia, media/entertainment, and entrepreneurships, can actually make for lucrative careers. More importantly, Muslims need not solely enter these fields for monetary purposes, but rather, should see it as a way to build our influence in community. Why?
“Why aren’t Muslim’s participating in telling their own stories?” It is our mistaken assumption that “if we make good money, buy a nice house, live in a nice neighborhood, we’ve got success. This is success for an individual maybe. For a community ...” No. The reality is that the “vast majority of things that influence you on a day to day basis … come from the private sector,” including media, business, and academia. Universities, especially, “shape the … pillars of this society,” but how many Muslims are actually in these positions? How many Muslim sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists, and historians do we have? How come a majority of the Islamic studies courses offered in schools are by and large funded by non-Muslim enterprises? Why aren’t Muslim’s participating in telling their own stories? Especially through new mediums, such as film production and YouTube, which Ustadh Noman Khan calls the “language and poetry of our time”?
“...our spread of influence should not only extend to the Muslim community, but rather our voices should get a strong footing in the larger society ...”
community,” someone who “influences minds or causes ripples in society” – a ‘mover and shaker.’In truth, if we are solely doctors and engineers, we are merely “skilled labourers” – highly skilled and vital to societies of course, but still “workers,” not movers or shakers that become essential characters in society and cause much needed changes. Indeed, our spread of influence should not only extend to the Muslim community, but rather our voices should get a strong footing in the larger society in general of which we are equal citizens. In order to do that, we need to penetrate the private sector, become a part of the social fabric, affirm our influence, and “enter the game.” After the watching the powerful videos, I felt quite reassured in my career choice. But I wondered whether I would have to jump over many obstacles to be a part of the social fabric of my community? Was there going to be no help? I can’t even jump over a puddle, so how can I be expected to take a leap into this unknown career path?
With some quick Google searches, however, I realized I was not alone. Rather, I found some amazing homegrown Canadian MusIf we do not engage in this more private and often abandoned lims who are taking this leap everyday, and I have proudly listed sector, we overlook the opportunity to become a “fabric of the some of our fellow movers and shakers below. Name: Maryam Monsef Occupation: Member of Parliament as Minister of Democratic Institutions Bio: Born in Afghanistan but forced to flee due to internal conflict, Monsef immigrated to Peterborough, Ontario in 1996. Honourable Mentions: Peterborough’s first female MP and youngest MP to be elected Links: https://maryammonsef.liberal.ca
Name: Haroon Siddiqui Occupation: Editor at The Toronto Star (now retired) Bio: Born in Hyderabad, India. Siddiqui immigrated to Canada and joined the Toronto Star in 1978. He received membership to the Order of Ontario for his work in building “a broader definition of the Canadian identity.” Famous Works: Authored a book titled, “Being Muslim”
Name: Hamzah Moin Occupation: Comedian and Digital Media Specialist Bio: Hailing from Mississauga, Ontario, Name: Mohamed Zeyara Moin is a self-proclaimed satirist who enOccupation: YouTube Personality joys highlighting when Muslims “do weird Bio: Taken from his FaceBook page – “Born stuff that aren’t so Muslim-like.” in Canada. Raised in the city of angels and Famous Works: Maniac Muslims heroes; Gaza. Mohamed Zeyara is a youth Links: www.maniacmuslim.com advisor, film maker, and mostly known for his online educational and motivational videos. Most of his knowledge is acquired from the 8 years of experience living in Gaza City during his adolescence. His videos have been watched by millions of Muslims and non-Muslims across the world. Inspiring youth with motivational and inspiring stories. He completed his Pre-Medical Sciences and is currently on his path to finishing his Medical Degree.” Name: Sudduf Wyne Famous Works: Inspiration Series Occupation: Owner and Creator of Salam Links: Shop in Mississauga, Ontario. https://www.facebook.com/mzeyara/ Famous For: Kashmiri Chai and halal https://www.youtube.com/user/Mzeyara2 Marshmallows! MARCH 2016 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 7
to share a is e c ie p m a truly on of this he intenti son that I’ve learnt fro rience, s e beautiful le xperience. An exp e the e m g humblin continues to teach suits y, that any pur upon man son of life. Of the m life, there s following le ose to pursue in this that will o s, you can ch uit, uniquely self-les eaning m rs is ONE pu UE fulfillment and ursuit p R give you T like no other. One rts of a in your life w you to WIN the he one d o that will all hich can NEVER be w the people, ney, fame, or status. o through m of Allah e v lo e th Built upon ng from the heart starti e (s.w.t), and n, this pursuit is th w o of your IMPACT. pursuit of
BY A HMED
Personal Accomplishment vs. Impact The Last 10 minutes I had just completed my appointment as a Teaching Assistant in the APS111 course (a first-year engineering and communications course), one of my most humbling teaching experiences. At the end of our last tutorial, I was in absolute awe of the emotional state the students had put me in. The round of applause, the genuine thanks and appreciation, and the sadness knowing that this tutorial was their last, all moved me to feelings and emotions I had never experienced. You see, I thought my final speech of appreciation and gratitude would be enough to wrap things up and call it a term. However, it didn’t really hit me until the end: The clock hit 12pm, tutorial was officially over, but for some odd reason, the students were still glued to their seats. Seeing their sad faces, I knew that there was only ONE last thing I could offer:
“Alright fiiiine…. class photo?” “YEESS!!” And then the picture above happened.
8 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | MARCH 2016
Walking to jumuah prayer after the tutorial, I was thinking about the different accomplishments I’d achieved in my Life, and whether any of them had summed up to the level of fulfillment I had just gained in the last 10 minutes. The answer was, probably none. When I told my mom about this experience, and the fact that I didn’t expect to receive such appreciation, my mom’s simple response was: “Do you know why? Because you did it from your heart”. We’ve all had personal achievements in our lives. These achievements could’ve been gaining admission to great schools, earning high marks in term projects, achieving new fitness goals, receiving scholarships, and many other things we, individually, earned. But if you think about it, these achievements are all self-centered, since “you” are the only one gaining the benefit. I discovered that to achieve a really fulfilling life is to think beyond oneself. In other words, one must pursue impact. Google defines impact as: “to have a strong effect on someone or something”. When your work comes from your heart, it results in impact. Personally, I believe that impact in itself is an obligation upon every single Muslim. I mean, why do you think charity is the third pillar of Islam? And I’m not just talking about money, donating a few dollars every now and then isn’t a problem for many of us alhamdulillah. I’m talking about donating your time and energy, because time and energy are two things you can never get back, and that’s the true
An old co-worker once told me “We’re all on this planet to help one another”. He was absolutely right. If you’re not helping someone right now, than you’re wasting your time on this beautiful planet.
Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) once said:
A Muslim who plants a tree or sows a field, from which man, birds and animals can eat, is committing an act of charity.” (Muslim)
How to WIN Hearts WW Did you know that the human heart is mentioned 132 times in the Quran? From the many verses, we find that the heart is described as a sentient organ with the capability of feeling, reasoning, and decision-making. In fact, science itself has proven that the heart communicates with both the brain and the rest of the body neurologically, biophysically, biochemically, and electromagnetically. SubhanAllah! Basically what I’m getting at is, human beings are nothing but emotional creatures. The ability to create and nurture genuine friendships is not based on how well you speak, what your status is, or how many “followers” you have on Instagram, but merely by your ability to open your hearts to people. When you open your hearts to people, people will realize that you are REAL and that you’re not hiding anything. People will realize that you actually genuinely care about their feelings, and when they know that, they’ll open their hearts to you in return. Back in my undergrad days (and no I’m not 70 years old), I’ve had many TAs who’d start their class on a very dry note. They’d walk up to the chalkboard, write off from the piece of paper they were holding, give some instructions, and that was it. Almost always, we all forgot those TAs’ names as soon as they walked out of that tutorial room; OR because they didn’t even introduce themselves in the first place. What allowed me to connect with my students was one thing and ONE thing only: Empathy. I made it my obligation to learn every student’s name. Because again, human beings are emotional creatures, and like any one of us we desire to be valued and recognized. I made it my obligation to ask my students how they were feeling, or how their week went, before uttering any word related to the course. After I’d see a couple of frowny and lazy faces brighten up, I’d begin with the tutorial material. Before you speak to someone, *virtually* put your feet into their shoes, walk a couple of steps, put yours back on, and then speak. Everyone is fighting a battle that you’re not aware of. In the case of my students, I had a very good feel of their battles (both mentally and academically), as I used to be a struggling, lonely, first-year student once. This allowed me to connect with the students very easily, and become more of a friend than a teacher.
Empathy is a powerful tool that allows us to connect with each other at phenomenal levels. Next time you ask someone how they’re doing, and they respond: “pretty bad…”, please ask “why?” instead of “ouch, may Allah make it easy for you.”. If you had paid attention, Allah IS TRYING TO MAKE IT EASY for them through YOU! So please be there to empathize and not sympathize. If you do so, then congratulations my friend, you just won yourself a heart!
Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) once said:
What actions are most excellent? To gladden the heart of human beings, to feed the hungry, to help the afflicted, to lighten the sorrow of the sorrowful, and to remove the sufferings of the injured.” (Bukhari)
Final Note: Pursuit vs. Results In this Life, people evaluate each other based on results. However, let’s not forget that Allah (s.w.t), our Creator, and the only One we should seek to satisfy, is interested only in our pursuit:
And that his effort/pursuit is going to be seen” Surat Al-Najm (The Star), verse 40
Allah (s.w.t) will not look at your results on Judgement Day, He is only interested in your pursuit. If we were to create a progress chart of the amount of people that believed in Prophet Nuh’s (PBUH) message, over the course of 950 years, I bet you the line on that chart would look horizontal. But, do you still think that Allah (s.w.t) would evaluate him by his results? Nay, but by his noble and determined pursuit! Therefore, let us strive to pursue the things that really matter in this life. Material wealth is a great thing to have, but let it not be the ends but the means towards helping other people to the best of our abilities, in order to achieve impact. The Muslim world today is in need of our help like never before. Darkness has been spread by the hands of mad men who claim they represent this beautiful religion, and to make matters worse, the media continues to spread lies to stigmatize the image of our religion. So tell me then, isn’t THIS TIME the perfect time to pursue impact? Indeed it is. It can start in your communities, it can start in your workplaces, or it can start in your classrooms. But remember, it all starts from your heart.
MARCH 2016 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 9
PHOTO // freepik.com
definition of giving.
n my experience, there are a few things that I believe to be irrevocably true. First, that it is in our disposition to prefer positive and happy experiences and to avoid pain or negativity. Second, that as human beings we are uniquely capable of adapting to many circumstances that, at first glance, may seem unimaginable. Finally, I believe that if we are reflective and cognizant of our responses to our struggles, then we have the capacity to gain extremely valuable lessons and to grow in a profound way following difficult life experiences.
BY HALLA AHMED
When reflecting on the nature of happiness, I find that I am less concerned with its attainment and more interested in what holds us back from well-being, from spiritual and psychological health. The conversation, I feel, is far more profound and engaging when we shift the perspective from how to be happy to the analysis of the factors that prevent us from contentment and well-being. I define contentment as seeking meaning and purpose in our actions and being satisfied with our present life situation, whether good or bad. To begin, it is important to recognize that happiness is never the end-goal. A conversation on â€œthe pursuit of happinessâ€? is already fraught with problematic assumptions, namely, that what we pursue is the emotion of happiness, and not something else that might be less transient or fleeting, such as contentment or wellbeing. Right off the bat, we need to get our definitions straight. Happiness is an emotional state, one of several emotional states. In psychology, emotion research varies in what are considered to be basic (the core) emotions, but there is some consensus in the literature that basic emotions consist of happiness, anger, sadness, disgust, fear and surprise. Similarly, the functions of emotions have been debated with explanations for the purpose of emotions ranging from its function as an aid in communication between human beings to a way for human beings to prepare to respond to their environment. No one explanation is right or wrong. However, what has always resonated most with me is that emotions function as a signal for what is happening in our environment. Many times we feel sad, anxious, upset, angry or guilty, and opt to either ruminate on these feelings and feel worse, or suppress these feelings only to have them build up in a very unhealthy way (with exceptions of course). In contrast, if we think of emotions as a signal that there may be a situation in our immediate surroundings that we should be paying attention to, we can use our emotions to gain better insight into ourselves and our interactions with others. Thus, the first significant note is that happiness is one aspect of the full spectrum that is human emotionality. Our emotions teach us something about ourselves and how we are engaging with the world around us. Through reflection, we can harness our emotions to gain insights and grow. The idea that as human beings we should seek to experience one emotion -i.e. happiness- disproportionately more often than all of the other emotions, is a problematic one, because it is saying that happiness is more valuable to human beings than the other emotions, which is not necessarily true.
10 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | MARCH 2016
There is much to be gained from moments of sadness, anger, surprise and fear that cannot be gained from moments of happiness, and vice versa. We often instinctively seek to avoid situations that may bring us pain or fear or vulnerability, but these are precisely the moments from which we have the most to gain. It is through facing, experiencing and reflecting on the moments when we are most afraid or hurt or vulnerable that allows us to gain those valuable life lessons that we use on our path to wellbeing and personal growth. Without these “negative” emotions, we would lose so much, miss so many opportunities to be better. Thus, it is not that we should pursue happiness, or as a matter of fact, any other emotion. It is that we should use these emotions to tap into the deepest part of ourselves, to understand ourselves, so that we can grow and excel as individuals. The pursuit is not of happiness, not of any one fleeting emotional state, but of something much more fulfilling and long-lasting. Happiness is only a by-product of this fundamentally worthwhile pursuit. So what is it that we pursue if not happiness? I would argue that what we seek is contentment and well-being: to find meaning and purpose in our actions, and to develop the highly adaptive capability to be satisfied with the various contexts that we find ourselves in throughout our lives. I believe that it is through the pursuit of growth, excellence, purpose and well-being that we are able to develop the skills and healthy coping strategies that result in becoming well-adjusted human beings, as well as having positive experiences like happiness. In my own experience, I feel that I could only learn what contentment was when I knew what fear was, how it hindered my growth, and when I was able to embrace vulnerability. This summer, I was thinking through and reflecting on what it means to be a genuine person, what it looks like to live authentically, and the role of intentions in achieving this. Through numerous past experiences, I saw how failing to be authentic with myself and with others had negatively impacted my well-being. And so I knew that I wanted to address this issue, as I felt it was something that was holding me back from my own personal growth. To do this, I sought out conversations and input from friends who I thought lived genuinely and courageously according to their own terms, and were able to be themselves unabashedly, no matter the context or situation. In my journey to figuring out what authenticity meant, I can distinctly remember a defining moment , when a friend of mine said to me “The worst thing you can ever do to yourself is think badly of yourself. Especially because there is no reason to.”
Her words were transformative. Thinking on them, I realized that my fear of imperfection, of being vulnerable, was not warranted whatsoever. The mean and ugly things I thought about myself were not the objective reality that I had conceptualized them to be in my head. Just because I thought I was flawed or I thought I wasn’t good enough did not mean that those things were objectively true. My belief in my insecurities or weaknesses did not give them life or any substance in the real world. They were only alive and real in my world. It was a transformative moment because it was as if a very strong spotlight were suddenly cast upon every one of my supposed weaknesses and insecurities and limitations and I could finally see them for what they truly were: self-imposed and only real if I gave them power over me. This was an enormously liberating realization for me. I could never be content with who I was and how I engaged with the world if I did not address the scary things deep down that we all keep hidden: fears and shame, and flaws and vulnerabilities. And after this, I was able to re-evaluate all of the episodes in my life that I viewed as “failures”, and recast them as part and parcel of my struggle and journey to be a better person, student, daughter, sister, Muslim, etc. In order to move forward and to grow, it is absolutely imperative that you address what is blocking you, what is holding you back. More often than not we allow past experiences to exert control over us, to hinder our growth and progress towards well-being. In order to move forward, sometimes you have to shift your gaze from the future and onto what surrounds and shackles you from your present and past. I would not have learned any of this if I did not tap into my emotions of fear and shame and sadness. I would not have learned any of this if I sought to be “happy” as opposed to seeking meaning, purpose, or contentment with who I am and the lot I am given in life. There is a way to be happy, but I contend that it is not through seeking happiness. MARCH 2016 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 11
BY MUHSANAH AREFIN
SYRIA damacus my memories from
y shirt was wrinkled and uncomfortable. It was a tacky, ugly hot pink that faded into a paler pink. My sister Safeya always thought that it looked wet. I do not know what possessed my mother into buying it. Alas, I was stuck on a street corner waiting for a bus I really did not want to go into. The streets were oddly empty; not much life. How boring, I mused. The outside gate of our apartment was lined with jasmine flowers, and the trees growing on the sidewalk had fall coloured colourful leaves. The store next to my building sold rice pudding topped with pistachio and ice cream. Although I observed these surroundings, I had yet to realize how familiar they would become. I stared into space and ignored my mom’s efforts to reassure me. I was eight at the time, so I was nervous and upset. At that age, I always cried when I was nervous. That day, I was very nervous. That day, was the beginning of what would define my experience in Syria. I wondered what my friends in New York were thinking at the moment. I sighed. As usual, I disappeared from the country without telling anyone. I wanted to be back at home with my friends and family. I wanted to be back at home in Ossining. I remember my Guyanese nani telling my mother her opinion of the whole Syrian ordeal: “ya das be crazy takin’ dem chil’ren to das crazy, dangerous, country!” Yet there we were. The truth was, I had just been enrolled into a private school called Al-Bawadir in Kfar Susah. I eventually developed a love-hate relationship with Al-Bawadir. I would trade up having to go to school in a country with an anti-American government (with little Arabic language experience) any day. Yet
12 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | MARCH 2016
I made friends over there, which I pray to God are safe, that have changed me greatly as a person despite my young age. Syria is the reason I am the person I am today; it was the time I learned bravery, and the time I realized the importance of determination. Living in a foreign country was no strange territory to me, but the loneliness of Syria still haunts me today. The images of countdown calendars and I had an ocean separating myself from my eldest sister, my brother, and my father. Our very existence in Syria honestly could not get any sadder. Every time we went overseas, I would run into every room quickly scanning details, praying for a working stove, bath, and toilet. Oh yes, about that toilet…. there wasn’t one. Instead we had a hole. Albeit, it was a very clean hole, but it was still not a toilet. “MOM!!!!” I hollered, “WHERE IS THE TOILET?!!” Mom, embarrassed by my loud outburst, snapped back: “You’ll just have to learn.” I couldn’t believe it. “Wha-a-a-at?” I whined back. I was a spoiled kid; I did not like peeing in holes, no matter how clean they were. But then again, I was stuck in a country I did not like so far. I had better make do or I was going to be miserable. And so I learned, and yet I was still miserable. To this day, my family and I still laugh together about the entire ordeal. There were many other details that I grumbled about at the time: The bath and toilet were separate; the “bath” was just a shower, but with no walls, so we had to squeegee the water into the drain when we were done. There was the usual water heating system (switch on,
But what I did not expect, when I first went to Syria, was being put into a full time school. My mother had never done this to anyone before. “Why?” I asked, “Why do I have to be the first one?” A family friend arranged my attendance at the school. Technically, the school was putting itself in danger. I was an American citizen and I should not have been there. The principal was a plump woman who looked stern but spoke intelligently. Like all women in Syria, she wore a white scarf tucked tightly into her shirt, which looked like a lab coat that was too long. “Oh God I hope this doesn’t work” I thought. I had only just started seriously learning Arabic the month before in Cairo at a learning centre. How in the world did my mom expect me to go to a full time school where no one spoke English? I took the placement test, and my Arabic was good enough for the third grade level, although I was actually in the fourth grade at the time. Considering that I was a grade ahead anyway, this wasn’t bad. To my disappointment however, I was accepted into the school and I started immediately. This would be the building where I would spend most of my days learning Arabic khadt, shammi, French influenced mathematics, and the Syrian national anthem. All the teachers were women; they all wore the same white scarves and blue & white striped lengthy overcoats. Yet the school itself was co-ed; all the students wore sky blue apron looking uniforms with orange ascots and khaki pants. The school had a courtyard where students would gather every morning singing the Syrian anthem to the flag. Because I was attending Al-Bawadir, my experience completely transformed from what Arefins were used to. My mother and sister were not as immersed in Syrian society as I was. I lived among these children who did not know anything about American life. And I did not know anything about them. And so, we return to the initial scene, where I am standing, and waiting on a street corner for a bus. I had not been measured for a uniform, hence my pink shirt. I still remember that misty morning very clearly; the bus pulled up in front of me and it looked extremely out of place. In Syria, a country that was not the most “colourful”, I stood in front of a bus that looked like it was owned by a hippie living in Mumbai, India. The bus monitor came off the bus. My mom exchanged some broken Arabic with her, trying to explain how I was scared, and to ask her to please be nice to me, and to please help me,
and to please stay with me. Please, please, please! I gave one last pleading look to my mom for her not to make me do this, to not get on a bus alone, in this foreign country, but she would hear none of it. I walked onto the bus and down the aisle gulping back my tears. I sat on an outside seat and looked down. I could feel the stares of all the other children burning into my skull. It’s understandable why the other kids were staring at me. Besides the pink shirt, I myself looked different from the rest: I had dark Bengali skin; straight jet black hair, cut so that I looked like a boy; and was very, very skinny. Syrians did not look like me. The girls and boys had blonde hair and green/blue eyes. They were big boned and white. I could not possibly look any different. “How long am I going to have to endure this,” I wondered.
But I did endure it. When we arrived, the students and I walked in a very straight line along the school gates. The school itself was very beautiful: the building was white with green trimmings; the gates were green covered in bright fuchsia-coloured flowers, and the hallways were so sparkling clean. I looked around with curiosity, but I also noticed the intense silence. Children in Al-Bawadir were so disciplined. Previously, I went to a school in southern Westchester (Mt. Vernon) in New York, where silence was a rare treat. And so needless to say, I was in complete awe at how good these kids were. I was separated from the group as the bus monitor brought me to the
switch off). The kitchen stove had to be lit with a match (unfortunately for Safeya, who feared fire). I still remember that dimly lit kitchen; the fridge in the front and the stove in back corner. On the side there would be a small table where we would eat our breakfast. The bedroom had one queen size bed where all of us would squeeze into for five months. To my mother’s dismay and to my happiness there was a working television with cartoons galore. Every day I would essentially become a zombie, watching countless cartoons that would later become memories to remember for the rest of my life. I think Mom figured that watching TV would get me to shut up about my lack of, you know, a normal childhood. The living room was split into the two parts; one section would become my territory, the other was Safeya’s. She would set her computer on the side near to the bedroom. Naturally, my territory was where the television was. I honestly think that my television addiction stems from the times in Syria. There was literally nothing else to do. What would an American eight year old normally do in Syria? Coming up with an answer is actually pretty hard. For my mother, it was television. I ate in front of the TV. I did my homework in front of the TV. I even stared at the TV when it was off! I sincerely hope the level of boredom I was feeling then is made clear here.
But what I did not expect, when I first went to Syria, was being put into a full time school. My mother had never done this to anyone before.
principal’s office, where it would be determined whose class I would be in. The school placed me in a class where the teacher spoke the most fus-ha (classical/formal Arabic). I called her Ansay, which was the slang term for Aa-ni-sa meaning “Miss”.
I remember Ansay being the least plump teacher and the kindest in the school. Although the entire faculty made an effort to be gracious towards me, she had the warmest smile. Throughout my time at Bawadir, she made sure I was happy. I cannot imagine what a challenge I was to her. I spoke no shammi, only broken fus-ha. And she did not speak one word of English. I really have no idea how I managed to communicate back then. Class had already started when I entered. I was furious with my luck. “Why did I have to come in like this,” I thought incredulously. Once again, I felt the stares. As a shy girl, this was not a good situation to be in. The classroom
MARCH 2016 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 13
was very neatly organized. There were three rows of bench-desks. The teacher’s desk was on the left side and the room was completely white. The school looked like something out of a movie. Everything was arranged so perfectly and everything was so formal. Coats and bags were hung up neatly on the right wall. Clean chalkboards were spread across the front wall. What a difference it was to be here. My school in New York was run down; in the basement of a low budget mosque where the walls were a gross green color and it always smelled of bleach. Ansay asked three girls in the middle row to move over for me. They seemed visibly annoyed to have to make space for such a weird looking girl. Every bench had exactly three people; therefore there was literally no place for me. As if my social lack of place in Syrian society was not distressing enough! And just like that, class continued as if nothing happened. I started to silently cry but made sure no one noticed. I had been holding it in for so long. I cannot remember the rest of the day; I was simply a vessel moving through the motions that day. I was so focused on trying not to cry that I barely paid attention to my surroundings after a while.
ing to go home. My studies entailed the following: ‘uloom (science), riyadiy’yat (math), khadt (Arabic calligraphy and script), lughat alarabiyya (the Arabic language), ingliziya (English), and computers once a week. Obviously, English had been my forte considering the level they were at was roughly that of American kindergarten. Everything else was done in Arabic only. My mother still boasts to others about how I learned the respiratory and digestive systems in Arabic. The wonderful thing about math was that it was universal…or so I thought. The European way of adding fractions was like trying to do calculus. The only thing I succeeded in truly was khadt, the art of writing Arabic. Let’s just say other Arefins’ handwritings pale in comparison to mine today.
As assembly concluded, students obediently returned to their respective classrooms. After the first day, a spot had been made for me in the front seat of the far left row of white benches. I received textbooks & notebooks, was measured for my uniform in the basement of the school, was given many instructions, and so on. It became very overwhelming. It is not that the school was particularly bad; it was actually very wonderful. The school was wealthy, prestigious, clean, organized, and had a great reputation; basically everything my school in New York wasn’t. But there is something terribly lonely about overcoming a language barrier. In my first month, there were a lot of hand gestures and broken English, but mostly silence. I refused to adjust in my first month. Instead, I spent my days wait14 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | MARCH 2016
When I finally got home, I cried and cried and cried, begging my mom not to send me back. She felt bad of course, like she usually did. However, this was one decision she never went back on. And for that reason, Syria became my true beginning for studying Arabic. For the rest of my time in Syria, I learned what it meant to struggle by oneself. No matter how much people helped me, there was only so much they could do. I had to adjust on my own and that was that. ****** As I gradually got used to school, I got into a routine. In the mornings, I would go, along with the rest of my class, from the bus to the classroom to the courtyard for assembly. It was in this courtyard where I learned to sing the Syrian anthem everyday while looking up to the obscenely large photo of Bashar Al-Assad. I felt very confused; I did what I was told every time and I sang, but it felt wrong. I was an American and I felt as if I was abandoning that, even if just temporarily. The anthem is only a vague tune in my memory now, but I cannot forget the mornings I stood in a militaristic-like line with my hand upon my heart. It would be years until I realized, however, the image of Bashar Al-Assad in the courtyard had an eerie presence in the school. I was a taboo in Syria, a foreigner among the people. I was not supposed to be there, under the watchful eye of the dictator. Twelve years later, as I watch the horrid actions of Bashar Al-Assad today, I can’t help but think back to those days. As an American child, I could hardly understand the reasons why the Syrian people lived in fear. But the image of Al-Assad now proves this point: how could one not live in fear where there are eyes everywhere?
After school I had a private teacher come to our apartment to help me with my homework. When I first met her, she looked like most typical religious Syrian women. She wore a blue jilbab and a white hijab tied so that it looked almost like an ascot attached to a scarf. This type of clothing implied a certain level of religiosity. Out of all the people I met those five months, she was certainly the sweetest. Those Syrians whom let me in proved to have such big hearts. Every day, she was patient with me, even though I was a restless eight year old. But I grew to really like her. In all of my experiences, it was the people I met that defined the country in my mind. The only way I was able to survive those long months was because I had teachers I could appreciate.
The school looked like something out of a movie. Everything was arranged so perfectly and everything was so formal ...What a difference it was to be here.
As time passed, while I didn’t realize it, I was really starting to learn Arabic. Little by little I learned phrases in shammi and my classmates opened up to me. I was pleasantly surprised by how my classmates were fascinated that I was American. “Oh! Oo’ly kilma wahda fil enjleezy! (Hey! Say one word in English!)” one girl asked me with wide eyes. I would always laugh and ask what she wants me to say. Once I started to learn how to speak with the kids around me, I became less of an outsider and more of an object to be “ohh-ed” and “ahh-ed” at. As a shy kid, I was never really in the spotlight at home. I liked the attention and I finally started smiling again. If the students had not opened up to me, I don’t think I could have made it. They were bright kids, always emanating light and joy. To me, we
were a funny looking bunch. I stood out because of whom I was. But I was able to blend in a little bit because of our outrageous uniforms. It was quite laughable how I had moved from a tacky pink shirt to a tacky blue apron. I couldn’t decide which of my getups was worse.
And as we see the breakdown of a nation, everyone (including myself) should never forget the humanity and dignity of the Syrian people.
The day I realized my classmates had become my feisty friends, was a touching one. More than halfway through my time in Syria, I had gotten pretty comfortable with my role in class as “The American.” Things had finally started going my way: I was practically fluent in shammi, classes were going well, and I wasn’t standing alone during recess. There were still these two girls who always gave me dirty looks though, and never really talking to me. They were the ones that were asked to move aside on my first day at Bawadir. It is quite ironic how fate taunts us. One day, I was sitting with my friends in the front of the classroom chatting about my drawing ability when suddenly I felt them glaring at me. One of the girls pointed at me, “Why are you guys talking to her? She’s new and different.” I was shocked. No one had ever been so blunt to me. Before I said anything, the friends surrounding me cried in outrage. “We like her! Go away! What do you want?” Again, shocked! No one in New York ever did that for me. They grumbled and left. This continued for a few days until finally they came around and apologized. They had grown tired of being isolated from the class. I smiled and said it was okay. This story seems like a cliché -out of a Disney Channel Movieexperience, but I swear it happened! I’ll never forget the girl who spoke in my defense. Her name has long escaped my memory now, but her actions have remained in my mind. A Syrian girl considered the feelings of an American girl. It was truly a moment reflective of what it meant to live in another country; one doesn’t connect with a culture, but rather with the people. From those days going forward, I was able to get by. My memories of Bawadir are now scattered, and it is difficult to remember every detail. Some days, I recall small, random details. Every day, I had spent a 25L coin to buy chocolate filled croissants from the courtyard café. I still remember the taste of that large pastry; warm and moist. Other times, I recall my classmates getting noisy when we had “computer class” in the basement; a true treat to us. Back in
2003, computers were not a common household item, even in the States. In English class, we stood and sang lame English songs that I had never heard of. In script class, my teacher beamed at me every time. I can barely remember her face; instead I retained the memory of her sweet smile. I remember the “school store” in the corner of the courtyard where I bought a shabby looking green-plaid pencil case. On another day, I remember our class was scolded for being so loud. It’s as if the scary teacher who reminded me of Ms. Trunchbull from Matilda appeared before us. She started to yell at us, and we all put our heads down. I started to cry out of fright, although I knew I probably wasn’t the one in trouble. A day on the bus has always stood out to me; so much that it is referred to as the “infamous battatus story” in my family. A blonde, blue-eyed boy from my class has always stood out because he was loud and funny. Most Syrians are not loud. On the bus that day, the Mrs. Trunchbull-like-teacher yelled at us again, so we were silent. Then suddenly: “la…la…la…” The bus monitor’s eyes popped out, “Meen’ili gun-ni?? (Who is singing?)” Everyone began to giggle as the tension melted away. The bus monitor said again: “Who is SINGING?!” The boy started to sing louder and louder. The bus monitor stomped toward him and pulled him by the ear. “esh inta? Inta’btigan-ni mithlal battatus? (What are you? You singing like potatoes or something?)” The bus burst out laughing as the tension disappeared into thin air. The boy grinned while wincing from the pain of having his ear pulled. Then he sang “battatus~ battatus~! (Potato, Potato)” The laughing increased. Then the bus monitor giggled. It was simply too much! I mean, potatoes? It didn’t make sense, but it was funny because we all needed a laugh. Just as the bus monitor was about to scold the boy, he exclaimed, “Ah! Shoffy ‘ankaboot hon! (Look, a spider is here!)” The bus monitor shrieked and let go of his ear. He sped away and got off the bus onto his stop. The bus burst into another round of laughter. The bus monitor laughed and blushed as she realized that there was no spider to be found. These memories will remain with me, and however insignificant and random, I cannot forget them, because to me, they are the proof I have for myself that I was let into Syria. Behind Syria’s cold thick surface was its ability to produce warmth and wonder for me. I was let into their private rooms where laughter can be heard. It is a reminder that, however short my time with the Syrians, I was able to learn the language that tricked the Bus monitor that there was no spider on the floor. I was able to experience what it felt like to smile in Syria. I hated being in Syria. But I never hated the people. I couldn’t. ****** This part of my life is very personal for me. But I wanted to share it at this time due to the recent refugee crisis. As the story of the Syrian people spreads across social media, I sensed a danger in the way we perceive refugees. We see the destruction that this war has on these people, we may risk dehumanizing an entire society. Syrians have their own stories, their own past, and their own culture. And as we see the breakdown of a nation, everyone (including myself) should never forget the humanity and dignity of the Syrian people. MARCH 2016 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 15
Faith in the University
“...Your secular education can become a spiritual experience, it really can. Especially the humanities can. But that depends on whether or not you have a decent grounding [in Islam], because if you did you’re going to find so much meaning in it.”
ATMV Interview with Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan 16 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | MARCH 2016
PHOTO // ALEJANDRO ESCAMILLA
BY ELHAM M ALI
“When science is divinely guided, we’re going to produce solutions for humanity, they’re not just going to worry about them making some money, and the same thing’s going to happen to an artist.” Q: I guess you could say it’s a “balanced education,” what you’re talking about, and the thing with this is that the Muslim community as a whole tends to lean more towards the sciences than the arts; arts studies being seen as inferior and, more than anything, useless to the community. What is your opinion on creative expression and humanities studies in the Muslim community, and what place do you think that they have? What is their importance for Islam and the Muslim community? So already I’ve been a student of Quran for the last, almost 15 years okay, and I’ll just start with some Islamic history. The Quran was considered divine because the Arabs new poetry really well and they knew the limits, the artistic limits, of poetry and they knew that the way this Quran is articulating itself is far beyond these human limits. In other words if they didn’t have artistic sensibility, they would not appreciate the divine beauty of the Quran. So the first people who appreciated the Quran’s divine origin could not have done so had they not had an artistic sense. That should in and of itself tell you the value of art and the value of poetry and the value of humanities. Now, I believe that we emphasize and glorify the sciences in the Muslim community over and above the humanities studies, which is actually an indication of where we are as a civilization, you know at the end of the day when you study the sciences if you ask any parent who’s pushing their child to go be a doctor or be an engineer or whatever it may be, the rationale behind it is, “I want them to have a stable job.” In other words you want to create an entire generation of people that are good employees, that make good money but at the end of the day they’re going to be employees. And at the end of the day science, as awesome as it is and I respect science a lot, it’s skill labour is what it is, whether you’re working in a lab or you’re in a hospital doing surgery, you’re performing some kind of labour that requires some kind of expert skill, so I like to boil it down to skill labour. Now, the humanities are actually engagement of human thought, they don’t teach you labour, like that’s why you’re critics
will come and say, “You’re doing English? What are you going to do with that?” Like they’ll literally say, what are you going to do with that, right? Because education is no longer about thought, the cultivation and development of thought, it’s about doing work, doing some kind of labour. Both of these are acknowledged and respected in our religious tradition especially in the Muslim ummah. But the problem is, to me the problem is, today the sciences are being studied devoid of divine guidance, and today the humanities are being studied devoid of divine guidance. And when you study science without divine guidance than you have no problem producing weapons, and you have no problem producing foods that you can produce artificially even if they’re harmful in the long run. You have no ethical gauge of how you’re going to use that science. Similarly when you study the humanities without a spiritual ground, and a revealed grounding then your humanities will lead you to produce art that is obscene, it may lead you to produce literature that is offensive to others or may actually take people away from their purpose in life, immerses people in the frivolous and wastes their lives away, etc. etc. You know both these forces, arts and sciences, they actually are blind, on their own they’re blind, but give them eyes it reveals of why I am learning this. I’m learning this to do something good for the world. When science is divinely guided, we’re going to produce solutions for humanity, they’re not just going to worry about them making some money, and the same thing’s going to happen to an artist. Art is being used for a lot of evil in the world, let’s just face it. Just like science is, art is used for a lot of evil too, it doesn’t matter if you’re Muslim or non Muslim when you’re studying these things, whether or not you’re inspired by the Quran, and not every Muslim is inspired by the Quran, right? So my argument is both of these can produce wonderful good, the key component though is we’ve become material. And this is actually, we are just by-products of the French and the European revolution, the renaissance, when science eventually was the alternative to the church, it was the new religion, it is the highest form of learning and all the nations of the world that have been colonized, and if you’re children from nations that have been previously colonised, you will notice that a scientific career is almost worshipped. It is a historical social backdrop against which this happened; this didn’t come out of a vacuum.
MARCH 2016 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 17
Q: My next question is about the place of the university as a whole. right now, the university is, like you said, pretty much a job factory. But what place do you think that the university should have, ideally, in the Muslim community? I think the Muslim community, I mean I have weird thoughts on this, I’ll just tell you what they are. I think that the North American Muslim community has an opportunity to spark a renaissance in the Muslim world or around the world, but I don’t think they should be thinking about themselves as much as they should be thinking about what their contributions are going to be to the world over. We have certain advantages here like university education, like the opportunity of free speech, like safety and security that much of the Muslim world doesn’t enjoy. And a renaissance in a civilization comes when people don’t shun away from any form of learning, they learn everything and they bring goodness to everything that they learn. So that’s, I think, a role that the Muslims in the US, particularly in the US, are going to have to learn to play. Like how do you balance reason and revelation? How do you balance a modern education and this timeless faith together? Because the world is clearly out of balance right, either you have to pick the side of religion or you have to pick the side of anti-religion, you can’t have both together. We can actually be a working model for what that looks like and an inspiration for the world over. Now the university plays certainly an essential role in that and right now even though our communities are more obsessed with raising funds to have enough money for a masjid, or you know, when does Ramadan begin, we have to start thinking big. If you don’t really think big you’re going to be in the same rut and you’re going to be having the same conversations 30 years from now and things won’t get better they’ll only get worse. You know my teacher used to say that when you’re a mountain climber and you throw your hook, you anchor up high so that you can climb up the rope; the height that you will climb depends on how high you threw the hook. In other words the higher you set your goals, that’s how far you’re going to be able to go. So I think there’s a problem of vision right now. We have to invest in our youth, we have to invest in our writers, we have to invest in our film producers, I argue if the Muslim community had Steven Spielberg he probably would’ve been a doctor. You know, if we had Shakespeare he probably would’ve gone into accounting. We don’t encourage the furthering of the arts and thought, not realising that it is actually these people that shift attitudes for entire nations, this time the entire world. Attitudes towards life towards justice and towards what should be glorified and what’s acceptable comes from film, like clearly it does, so film producers are way more powerful than the doctors, than an engineer. Engineers are cool, I mean they save lives, I love them, but let’s understand where change in society’s coming from, and where are the Muslims in those spheres? Where 18 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | MARCH 2016
are the leading political theorists who are Muslims? Where are the Muslims who are leading the sphere of anthropology or sociology or psychology for that matter? Or the arts or film; we have to pave the way, we really, really do. And the world needs it, it’s not just the Muslim community, the world’s out of whack. Because religion has been demonized and when you take religion out of the picture all you have left is this arbitrary morality that is going to lead you down a much darker path. So on the one hand you have this weird twisted interpretation of religion and on the other hand you have this twisted human being left to their own devices, both of which are really bad places to be, and the only people who have a chance to be in the middle is us, and if we don’t rise to that occasion we’re answerable I think. Q: outside of just being a job factory, the other major role that the university plays is basically that of a mating ground. It’s where a lot of people go to find spouses and for Muslim women in particular this is difficult. a lot of sisters are pushed into getting degrees and if they don’t come out with a husband as well then that’s a failure of its own. So what would you say to help young Muslims who are looking to navigate these two areas? You guys have it so bad, I feel so bad for you, I do. It was so much easier when I was in college back in 1875, when I was in college things were so simple. Oh my god things are complicated now. You would ask some guy about, “you know who that sister is? Ok so can you ask some other sister?” You reach out to their family and before you know it things are done, it’s settled. It wasn’t complicated. Now you have this, like, you can’t trust anyone, what’re they really like. Then you have the Facebook thing, you check out their profiles, this and that and everybody’s checking out everybody, it’s just so bad! And it’s demeaning actually, I find it demeaning. There used to be beauty and a dignity to this process and it’s been taken away. And it’s a little bit of an Islamic sprinkling on top but it’s basically the dating culture is what it’s become. Everybody checking out everybody else. You know the family is the most noble institution in Islam, it is what human beings were given while they were in jannah, Adam was in jannah and he was given a spouse. This is a sacred institution on and everything around it should be honoured except honour has been taken away from it. It’s supposed to be something beautiful it’s turned into something ugly. And it’s probably actually bad before it even begins, so how do you expect it to be good after? Now, as far as finding a good person in your life is concerned, I personally don’t think there’s anything un-Islamic, and I’m quoting my teacher here now, my teacher Dr. Nadwi, who’s a muhadith, says, it’s okay Islam doesn’t say you can’t fall in love, and Islam doesn’t say you can’t like a girl or like a boy, its fine. Islam just says
go about it in the right way. In other words if you find someone you like then other social stigma that are associated with it, like they’re not the same career as you, or they’re not the same ethnicity as you, all the stuff is whatever. Especially for Muslims living in a minority all this stuff is nonsense it makes no sense at all. What culture, what are you talking about? You kid likes pizza better than they like biryani. They’d rather not eat baklava, they’d rather eat Burger King. We have these cultural norms which we have, for all practical purposes, abandoned but we still want to hold on to for our children, and that’s got to stop. Even for yourself don’t pigeon hole yourself into, “I have to have this kind of a husband” or “I have to have a linear life, meaning I’m going to finish college and then I’m going to get married and then” those might happen. But if a good opportunity comes around, if a good spouse comes around that you know you can have a good life with then pursue it, pursue it the right way but pursue it, don’t let it go like, “you know after college”. How do you know you’re going to be around after college? How do you know they’re going to be around after college? How do you know that opportunity will still be there, you don’t know anything! If good comes your way don’t turn it away, take it! And I would even urge (I know parents won’t be reading this) but I think parents also need to develop a more open mind when considering especially their daughters’ opinion. If you trust your daughter enough to send her to university you should trust her enough to at least give her recommended guy a shot, a real shot instead of just bouncing off the walls and saying, “how could this day have happened, how could you have proposed that you should marry this guy?” We have this over reaction that we just have to chill out and get over and move on. Because, you know, we’ve made this subject so taboo in our families that when the guys and girls are dating and they’re doing stuff, they’re doing their stuff ‘cause you can’t ignore your feelings, and “I know my parents won’t be able to handle it so I gotta do something,” and there’s this under cover, underground lifestyle of the Muslim youth in college that exists. I mean I know it exists, I’m not theorizing, you know it exists and I know it exists, the problem is why it exists.
We don’t openly deal with our problems, how many kids are able to have an open conversation with their parents about marriage? How many parents are open to marriage before you finish college? “No no no you have to finish college first!” really? Go four years of school with all the temptations around you, for 4 years in every single class and not get married? Seriously? So there’s a multi-faceted conversation about getting married early possibly if you’re ready, if you’re mature enough. How you develop maturity in young men and women? How do you navigate college life while guiding your chastity, your modesty, which I think is the biggest thing under attack. And the one thing, if you walk away from college and not have your chastity tarnished, you’ve succeeded in life. You’ll be all right. I could rant forever. Q: my next question kind of goes in the same vein: there is a general idea that once you leave university, that’s it, you are, or you should be, a responsible functioning adult, But that’s almost never the case. for Muslims in particular, many students have that linear mindset that, “once I graduate them I’m going to get married and live an independent life,” so this can be a serious problem. so what do you think is the intersection between the university and the home? how should the university work to create mature, functioning adults outside of just the intellectual sphere?
MARCH 2016 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 19
The university’s not going to create mature adults, it’s your company that’s going to give you maturity. I argue that what gave me maturity was that I was working full time as I was going to college. You have a lot of college kids that are going full ride from their parents, you’re going to school, cutting out of class, dropping out, changing your major 8 times, how are you mature? I don’t care if you’re 35, you’re not mature. You’re not a man. You have to ensure work responsibility, real-life responsibility to kids that are adult age, you have to start treating them like an adult. Like you have to contribute towards your own education, you have to pay towards it yourself, this is you investing in yourself, not all of it should be a free ride. And when we spoon feed our children and you get used to being spoon fed like that, you know what, you get this entitlement mentality that you even bring into a marriage. So when you get married you’re like, “what are you doing for me?” and you’re not
thinking what are you doing for the other, ever. It’s just about yourself and your feelings about your preferences and what you like and what you don’t like. So I think I’d say once somebody is 18 they should seriously be involved in the work force they should be doing something to be contributing to community, developing a sense of, “there’s other people that are important in the world other than myself.”Be part of something more than yourself that prepares you for family life. And these youth years before you get married, these are the years of you being a contributor because once you get married financial responsibilities hit; maybe babies are on the way, maybe the job becomes full time and all that, you’re going to disappear from the community for a little while ‘cause you’re going to be too busy with your own family and our work. So you have these college years, after high school, actually do something for the world, and you have to do it. When people don’t do it then they go to college and they come home and they spend 8 hours on the PlayStation, that’s what they do, that’s their contribution in life, they’re consumers and wastes of space. So we have to instil this kind of activism among youth, to be part of Islamic activities, go join like Habitat for Humanity or something, go do something good! And that will build maturity and that will actually build the kind of character in you that makes you attractive to others anyway. Good people are attracted to good people. When you become part of good thing you’re going to be around other people who want to do good things, and thus you’ll find insha’Allah good matches, that’s how things naturally happen. There’s an old Arabic saying which the equivalent in English is, “birds of a feather flock together”; when you’re part of good things you’re going to be around people who also want to do good, you know. That’s how you find a good spouse, you’re not going to find a good spouse at club hours, sitting across from the pizza that you ordered at the MSA, that’s not where you find a good spouse *laughing*.
Jazak’allah Khair to Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan and the Bayyinah Institute for taking time to answer our questions! Check out the TMV Blog to see the Ustadh’s answers to some questions from the MSA community! 20 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | MARCH 2016
INSERT SUB-HEADING ISLAMIC WAYIF HAVE ONE to a gpa 4.0 BY AATINA ABID MUNIR
The more we focus in our salah, the better we will be able to concentrate on our school work.
A quick Google search will show you that ‘lack of focus’ is the greatest problem that students of our generation face. Unlike generations of the past, we are a generation that is constantly distracted. Science shows that the best way to improve focus is through practicing meditation. Extensive research has shown that meditation can improve concentration manifold and students who incorporate some form of meditation in their everyday routines have consistently performed better in their academics in comparison to those who do not meditate. The brain is a muscle that, when exercised properly, can be trained to remain focused, attentive, and effective. How lucky are we that meditation has been prescribed to us five times a day through salah? The more we focus in our salah, the better we will be able to concentrate on our school work. Perhaps, that is the reason why the words “Come towards Salah, Come towards Success” are included in our call to prayer.
In addition to meditation, fasting can also be used as a technique to improve grades. When completing our prescribed fasts, most of us spend our days sleeping and, if we are awake, we become lazy and lethargic as we wait for the maghrib adhan. How, you may wonder, can fasting possibly improve our performance? Mark Mattson, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and the current Chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute of Aging, is one of the foremost researchers in the area of cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying neurodegenerative diseases. Talking about the revolutionary benefits of fasting, he says that fasting is a physical and psychological challenge for the brain; it elicits many of the same changes that happen during vigorous exercise. It stimulates the production of neurotrophic factors such as BDNF and FGF which promote the growth of axioms and dendrites, the formation and strengthening of synapsis and the production of new neurons from stem cells (neurogenesis). Our brains, thus, become more efficient and promote faster learning. SubhanAllah! PHOTO // JOHN SMITH
ow many times have we been told and taught that the solution to all of our problems—whether they be related to work, family life, spiritual or physical well-being—can be found in the Quran and the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him? When faced with a difficult or seemingly unsolvable problem, however, how many of us actually depend, first and foremost, on the Quran and the sunnah? As students, in particular, how can we use the teachings of the Quran and the sunnah to perform better and thrive academically?
Islam teaches us to persist, persevere and never give up. The Quran says: “Surely Allah is with those who persevere’ and that “Man can have nothing but what he strives for. His efforts shall be seen and rewarded to the fullest extent” (Surah An Najm 53:39-41). So, wake up for fajr. Concentrate in your salah. Be sincere in your fasts. Be persistent in your acts of worship. Repeatedly ask Allah for help in attaining success and inshAllah we will all be on our way to getting 4.0 GPAs very soon.
MARCH 2016 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 21
The Slippery Slope between Financial Security and Materialism 22 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | MARCH 2016
BY RABIA SOHAIB
To answer the question of whether money can buy happiness, let me ask you a series of questions.
1. Did you sulk over your parent’s refusal to purchase an item you really, really wanted? 2. Did you ever feel sad that you could not afford toys/vacations/ clothes that others around you could? 3. Did you feel overjoyed when you were finally able to get some thing from the market that you had your eye on? 4. Does money give you a sense of freedom? If you nodded yes to the four questions above, then don’t fret, its normal. Although as we grow older and our preferences change; we might not feel the same amount of joy on being able to buy ice cream or a toy, but we do feel happiness and satisfaction when we are able to afford a given lifestyle for ourselves or our families. Indeed, our whole lives are often guided to the end of making money to earn a decent standard of living. Since we are born, many of the activities we pursue or at times are made to pursue are for the quest of money. We are sent to good schools and encouraged (in the case of desi families even threatened) to get good grades so that we can get into a good university or college. In college we are always in a race, competing with our classmates, participating in competitions and extracurricular activities, so that we can get a good job. At work we are pitted against our co-workers for raises and promotions, completing extra hours for extra pay. In truth, the quest for monetary satisfaction does not end. Some, like me, even return to school with the primary motivation being my ability to increase my earning potential. By choosing to study at Rotman, I invested $100,000 and 2 years of my life to increase my success rates for higher incomes. Nevertheless, even with all this grueling work, having
money at the end of the day to spend on necessities still lead to happiness. For example, when I finished my undergraduate and started working, every item I was able to purchase for my family and myself gave me immense joy because I was able to afford a higher standard of living than I was when I was in school. In truth, having money and the discretion to spend it as I wished made me … happy. So have we just proved that money really can buy happiness? Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that. Psychologists state that to a certain point money does indeed lead to happiness. However, that is only till basic necessities are met. Once basic necessities like adequate food and shelter are satisfied, money does not lead to a substantial increase in happiness. According to a study conducted on US residents by Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, money and happiness have a positive correlation up till an annual income of $75,000. Why such a specific number? It was found that with an annual salary of $75,000 provided families with a decent standard of living in America, where necessities and minimal luxuries were fulfilled. Importantly, they also noted that those individuals who earn a salary of more than $75,000 are not any happier than those who earn a salary of $75,000. In essence, once a level of financial security meets basic necessities, money does not lead to a substantial increase in happiness. Rather, there is evidence of inverse where extreme levels of monetary acquirement and privilege lead to a whole range of problems. Numerous studies have found that too much wealth results in people giving themselves too much of a good thing. As a result, the marginal joy received from an activity decreases overtime when committed in excess. Just like our parents warned us that eating too much ice cream is a cause of a joyless stomach ache, so is indulging ourselves in too much wasteful spending a cause for joyless outcomes; especially dangerous is over-spending – going beyond ones means to satisfy our desires in hopes of happiness can have the opposite outcome of an unhappy debt-filled life. Thus, finding a balance between financial security and materialism is key. Islam gives perfect guidelines to help us achieve this balance. Islam teaches us to achieve a balance by constantly reminding us that this world is temporary. Thus, we are told not to fall in love with money, but rather encouraged to distribute extra wealth through charity. Recently, numerous studies have proven that charity actually makes you happier. Giving not just makes us happier but is also good for our health! In his book ‘Why Good Things Happen to Good People,’ Stephen Post talks about how giving has proven increased health benefits in people with chronic illness including HIV and multiple sclerosis. And lets not forget the Thawab that is promised in the hereafter, something that can really put a smile on one’s face! In this way, money does not just lead to happiness for an individual and their family but also for others. Alhamdulillah, we have been blessed with the opportunity to bring happiness to our lives by spending our money on causes that are in dire need of our help; from those suffering due to the Syrian refugee crisis, to those in Gaza and Afghanistan. Inshallah, our acts of charity, however little or large, can bring happiness to the lives of others and ourselves.
PHOTO // JONATHAN COHEN
appiness is a topic that has been heavily debated, discussed and researched since the beginning of time, yet any concrete answer detailing the root of joy seems fleeting. One supposed cause that has persisted to baffle researchers of this topic is the association between happiness and money. On the surface level, it seems quite wrong to consider happiness as a commodity that can be purchased only by those that have the means to do so, leading many to the assumption that money cannot buy happiness. Nevertheless, evidence shows that the worlds happiest countries are developed countries, where average household income and consequentially the standard of living is much higher than that in developing and underdeveloped nations. So is there truth to the claim: people who say money cannot buy happiness didn’t know where to shop?
MARCH 2016 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 23
The second issue of The Muslim Voice Magazine for the 2015-2016 school year.